One year ago the Palestinian government asked for UN membership - without success. Today, all the initial euphoria is gone, and peace talks in the Middle East seem to have reached yet another gridlock.
As Mahmud Abbas addressed the UN General Assembly, it was a speech filled with anger and despair. And although in the end, the Palestinian president received applause, even standing ovations, the mood of his speech lingered: While the representatives of even the smallest island states were able to tell stories of success, Abbas wasn't able to share any good news. Negotiations with Israel, once optimistically referred to as "peace talks" are on hold. "Israel does not want a two-state solution," Abbass concluded bitterly. "But we Palestinians do have a right to a state of our own," he said during the General Assembly's applause.
"I speak in the name of an angry people"
Israeli military checkpoints are part of Palestinian daily life.
Grippingly, Abbas talked about the repressions that Palestinians in the occupied territories are facing between Israeli settlements on one side and military checkpoints on the other.Water and the most fertile farmland areas would be taken from them, while racist attacks by Israeli settlers continued and almost 5000 Palestinians were locked away in Israeli prisons. In the light of this, Abbas appealed to the international community to take up the cause of the Palestinian people.
But no matter how much the Palestinians would like to be a member, at the United Nations, they only have guest status: The Palestinian request for membership is safely tucked away in the cabinet file.
One year ago, Abbas used his speech in front of the General Assembly to ask for that membership - amidst the cheers of his people in the streets of Ramallah and Nablus. Abbas' reasoning: The recognition of Palestinian statehood would strengthen his position for negotiations with Israel, as well as his own standing.
No state, no UN membership
But it's the UN Security Council that needs to endorse the acceptance of new UN-members, and for the Palestinians that endorsement never came. It was opposed by the US, who stand firmly by the Israelis; given that, a Security Council vote on the issue was no longer an option. Instead, the Palestinians remained "observers" - a status that the UN had already given to the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in 1974. Back then, it was Yasser Arafat as head of the PLO who, with a pistol on his belt, stepped in front of the General Assembly, and the UN recognized the Palestinian right to "sovereignty and independence."
No equal dialogue partner for Israel
In September 2011, Palestinans cheered as Abbas asked for UN membership
Now, decades later, Palestinians are further removed from their chance to a state of their own than ever before. The speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke after Abbas, only seemed to underline that: In it, Netanyahu merely touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that it was "impossible to solve it with slanderous speeches" - a side blow in the direction of president Abbas. Besides, Israel would have other worries, namely the Iranian nuclear program.
At the United Nations "we continue our efforts for a membership," Abbas said in his speech. He wants the General Assembly to vote on a status for Palestine which is better than the current one, but still ranges below the level of a regular membership. On this, there is hope for him: A vote for acceptance within the plenum is considerably higher than in the somewhat exclusive club that makes up the Security Council.